The cervix connects the vagina to the uterus (womb). It is the lowest part of the uterus.
Causes of Cervical Cancer
A sexually transmitted disease, the human papillomavirus (HPV), is usually what causes cervical cancer. One in four people in the United States have HPV. It is spread by skin-to-skin contact. There are many types of HPV, some that cause no symptoms and some that cause very serious cervical cancer. Some cause genital warts, which are not cancerous but nevertheless bothersome.
The cells in your cervix go through many changes before they become cancer. A Pap test can find changing cells before they turn into cancer, which is why it is so important to get regular Pap tests.
The Pap test is performed by your primary care physician or gynecologist. Many people have abnormal Pap test results. Some abnormalities are more serious than others. Your doctor will perform an additional test to learn more.
Additional testing may include:
- Repeat the Pap test
- HPV test – this test, performed at the same time as the Pap test, shows if you have the type of HPV that may cause cancer
- Colposcopy – a doctor looks at your cervix more closely and may take a tissue sample (biopsy) to test for cancer
Women should begin screening for cervical cancer with a PAP test when they are 21 years old. Screening generally continues through age 65.
Cervical cancer is one of the only types of cancer that can be prevented by a vaccine. The vaccine protects you from getting the HPV virus, which causes cervical cancer. HPV virus can also cause cancer of the rectum, penis, vagina, throat, head and neck.
Since HPV is sexually transmitted, it should be given to both boys and girls.
The vaccine works best when it is given before a person becomes sexually active. It is therefore important for boys and girls to get the vaccine at a young age, between 11 and 12 years. However, young adults up to age 26 can still benefit from the vaccine.
Other ways to prevent HPV
- Use condoms each time you have sex
- Limit the number of sexual partners you have
- Get a Pap test every three years as recommended by your primary care physician
Talk to your primary care physician about the Pap test and HPV vaccine for you and your family. Call Union Health Center at 212-924-2510 to select a primary care physician.